SWBTS counseling professor helps healing process at Virginia Tech

As the students, faculty and staff at Virginia Tech tried to make sense of the tragic deaths of 33 of their own, Southwestern Seminary’s associate professor of biblical counseling John Babler was invited to help lead the recovery process. He joined a counseling team comprised of 14 members of the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors, and took a leadership role in organizing the group’s week-long activities.

Babler arrived on the VT campus on the Monday after the shootings. His experience as a volunteer fire department chaplain, social work coordinator and children’s home program director were quickly put to use.

“The ministry I had was training and equipping the counselors who were working there,” Babler said. “I also had a lot of good contact with the fire chief, the fire department and the emergency medical services department who were all serving in a volunteer capacity.”

Babler helped coordinate the counselors’ contacts and interaction with students who were out and about around campus. Words of encouragement and gestures of grace were extended by the counselors to students who were gathering at impromptu memorial sites and information booths.

“Nouthetic counselors use the Bible to encourage and give hope to struggling people,” Babler said. “At Virginia Tech, a primary focus was providing answers from Scripture to the hard questions that arose from the tragedy.”

A local church, Main Street Baptist Church in nearby Christianburg, and Campus Crusade invited the nouthetic counselors to help them hand out thousands of pieces of biblically-based literature. Serving at a tented table sponsored by the church, Babler and his team shared with hundreds of students the love of Christ and the hope found in Him. In addition to his leadership roles, Babler said he personally had about 30 spiritually meaningful discussions with students and staff at the university.

“This was a great example of how a local church that had cultivated relationships with campus ministry groups was able to step up in a time of crisis and be a presence for Jesus Christ,” Babler said.

Main Street Baptist Church also hosted a “Why Virginia Tech?” program. It was designed for anyone to come and ask spiritually sensitive questions. Nearly half of those in attendance were Korean VT students and campus ministry leaders. Babler was one of the panel guests during that healing event.

The panel discussion lasted just over an hour, but Babler and the other counselors stayed afterward for an extra hour-and-a-half and counseled with the Korean students. Babler’s experience with a large population of Korean students at Southwestern Seminary gave him some insight into their questions and concerns. The Korean students he spoke with were relieved that they had not experienced any race-based reaction after the shooting.

“There is a strong sense of community at VT … One of the campus ministries had sent a series of emails to Cho the first year he was there, inviting him to come to some functions and services. That was contrary to what Cho Seung-Hui had claimed: that no one reached out to him there,” Babler said. “The Korean ministry leaders who came to the ‘Why VT?’ panel were especially interested to understand how they could minister to Cho’s family.”

Before coming back to Fort Worth, Babler conducted some training sessions for counselors and emergency responders. He has developed a training curriculum based on his training and his experiences in crisis ministry after the 1999 Wedgwood Baptist Church shooting, after Hurricane Katrina, and conducting firefighter funerals on several occasions. Babler said the purpose of the training was to help the helpers use passages of Scripture to meet needs.

“This was training the counselors in the principles of biblical crisis ministry so they can minister in this way when they get back home,” Babler said. “In our culture, we need to prepare churches to do crisis ministry … We emphasized how counselors having a relationship with people they are helping is central … I helped them see how this relationship looks different in a crisis situation than it does in the in-office counseling sessions they are used to.”

There was no one more surprised and delighted than Babler that he even went to VT in the first place. When the invitation to go came from the group’s coordinator, Ernie Baker of the Master’s College in California, Babler was uncertain whether it was what God wanted him to do. It was a Saturday, and Babler needed to be in Virginia the next day. A quick check of airline tickets showed prices of more than $1,200 on such short notice.

“I called American Airlines just to see if they had anything,” Babler said. “I told them where I was going and why. I couldn’t believe it when American Airlines donated an open-ended, round-trip ticket. The provision of the ticket by American was one of the ways God confirmed to me that I should take advantage of the opportunity to go to VT.”

For more information on crisis ministry from a biblical perspective, Babler can be contacted by email at jbabler@swbts.edu.

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